Mark Vangheluwe – A Letter to the Pope
Be honest now, what Uncle did is hardly a venial sin, it’s not what you’d call a slip-up. It was more than an innocent game or a dalliance, as he said on TV.
He had me in a lethal stranglehold, to the point that I nearly suffocated. He took possession of my body and spirit. I could not breathe, slowly but surely I suffocated under his stinking, hairy, greasy body. I simply endured it, and shut myself off from the outside world. I just pretended I wasn’t there. After his selfish act it was as though an explosion took place inside me, shattering my self-image into thousands of tiny pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle being shaken apart. I’m now attempting to retrieve those pieces, and put them back in place.
All the rules and mores with which my parents raised me were at once rendered irrelevant, and of a different order. Life was flipped upside down, and so was I.
The upshot was inner conflict, fear, helplessness, heartache, anger, and most of all shame, intense shame, unending shame. And these are only now beginning to wane.
You’re probably not aware of it, but the shame I felt back then is indescribable. For me, it was devastating. These were impressions that maim a person’s insides and stupefy his spirit. My body responded as though it were something pleasant, it answered with the swelling of the organ, but my spirit froze, it sensed that something was not right. That conflict, that tearing of the soul, that rupture, dear Pope, is indescribable, unnameable. It is on these shards that I have built my life.
‘You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.’
– Marcus Aurelius
Dear Pope, surely you will appreciate that I was still young, painfully young, had not yet learned the words to express myself, nor did I grasp what was happening to me. I was dumbfounded, speechless. I was numbed and paralyzed, trapped within myself: all the better to hear the groaning, the ticking of the clock, the agitated breathing, the warming of the radiators, the smacking of his lips, the chiming of the bells in the church tower. And to feel those hands that groped me all over, the tongue that licked me, those fingers in me—of these things I am still aware.
It nestled between me and myself. It rent my person in splinters, as though I were being chopped into kindling. And no matter what I tried, it did not become less, only more. I was unresisting, powerless and small.
I could go on, dear Pope, in vivid details if necessary, about what exactly took place. The memories are still very much alive, as though it was yesterday. He rode me like a ruttish bear or like a stag in season, like the monster of God and his consorts. The Devil in full action, prick to the fore, until the bestial instincts had subsided.
‘Do not allow your desires, but rather Jesus Christ, to rule your life.’
Time and again he sought me out, creating those opportunities himself—just as God created day and night. On holy days and also on ordinary days, without exception, he violated and harassed me with desires I could not fulfill. It did not appear to embarrass him; he reveled in it. For me, though, the shame and the disgust will never pass.
It went on for years on end, non-stop, unhindered, because no one brought it up, no one restrained him or noticed anything. Each time anew. Henceforth till eternity. Amen.
It is etched in my memory, it pursues me like my shadow and is burned into my retina. He left his mark on me, lifelong, unaware how far-reaching the consequences would be.
Nowhere felt safe. It was as if he were lurking everywhere, like a wolf waiting for Father’s inattention, to attack the herd and drag his prey to his bedroom, as though he was the serpent in the garden of Eden.
Probably—I do hope so—he felt deep down that it was wrong, that something was amiss. He most likely found an immense void in his heart, a terrifyingly vast emptiness. Nothing but an insatiable hunger, an unslakeable craving, an uncontrollable urge. He wanted me to fill that bottomless pit with my body.
Of course the bishop also had his good side, and they keep bringing that up. Who doesn’t—even the biggest fool has at least one talent and still walks around free.
And of course Uncle contributed to the institute’s progress, he tirelessly fostered its growth, and he prayed daily for God’s help, so that the institute would survive and thrive in these difficult, diabolical times. And yes, he tried to live as a Good Samaritan: he visited the elderly and the infirm, the dying, and succored the thirsty with good wine. He gave shelter to the stranger and the refugee, although they weren’t as numerous then as now. He buried the dead, prayed for them and administered the extreme unction before they passed on. He visited prisoners and ransomed them if he was able to. He acceded to most works of mercy.
But instead of clothing the naked, he unclothed me, time and again. He made me naked and gave his carnal passions free rein. He amused himself with my body, the way a cat amuses herself with a newly captured mouse. For fun, and until it is dead.
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’
And God saw that it was good—at least, that’s what I concluded because He allowed it to happen, all of it in His name and under His all-seeing eye. God did not intervene. At most, He turned away and shed some bitter tears, but beyond that He did nothing.
Dear Pope, it’s obvious, isn’t it, that this is not on? A grown man with a child, do you consider that normal?
The learned professor from the Major Seminary, the esteemed bishop, and me, ignorant, unaware, immature, a brat with a brain in full development, everything in full development. And no one to talk to, only God, Our Father, way up in heaven, in the white light, but He did not listen to me, nor to this kind of parable. From Him, not a single sign of concern. God damned me, I reckon.
But what’s the use of rehashing it, and telling it to you now? It was in all the papers, and was broadcast by every TV station in the world. Our family was in the eye of the media storm, surely you remember that, or don’t you read papers that report this kind of news, or watch TV?
Still, it would be strange if this did not come to your attention. Hundreds of meters of tape were recorded, thousands of trees were felled and thousands of liters of ink poured to get it onto paper. The slew of articles, documentaries, op-eds and columns by experts, not to mention the opinion of every Tom, Dick and Harry on internet, pulled no punches, neither with him nor with me. You don’t want to know how many, and what all they said. I’ve saved the newspapers, at least, they’re in the studio, arranged by date—more than you can count. I had to install a special cabinet to store them all, to save the stories. But from now on I’m going to live in the future. What was, will never again exist.
Experience is the mother of wisdom, they say. And I’m trying to make good on this.
I know, there are worse things in the world: war and famine, natural disasters, earthquakes and forest fires, terrorism and mass shootings, rare diseases, clergymen who do not live a life of celibacy, and more of these terrible things, but what I went through made an immense, grotesque impression on me. And few people dare talk about it, out of shame and impotence. The consequences have been immeasurable. Not only for me, but for those around me too, people who are dear to me and whom I try to love, although I often fall short. It is woven into the life of the queen, the family, it lives with us, unseen, like a cursed spirit. For my part, I can try to learn to live with it; sometimes I succeed, but it mustn’t be allowed to touch my loved ones, I can’t do it to them any longer, I cannot continue to accept it. They mustn’t suffer any longer because of him. It has to stop. The relationship with the queen, the interaction with the progeny, the trust amongst parents and siblings, in-laws and friends, has been irreparably altered.
How could things have been different?
Perhaps I would have had more self-confidence, and did not panic with every untoward comment? Perhaps I could recognize and articulate my feelings?
Perhaps I could love the queen and the progeny better, and have far more energy for other matters, things that really count?
Perhaps big brother would still be alive?
Hence this letter, your grace, I want to share it with you.
In black and white, how my life—but also that of thousands of others who experienced the same awful things—can proceed with this handicap. People whose lives took an unasked-for turn thanks to overzealous priests, pastors and nuns.
I want to show to you here, in black and white, how I had to fight and grapple, made secret recordings in pursuit of the truth. I want to show you how hard it was to simply live, to fight bare-fisted against unseeable forces. How I struggled by the sweat of my brow against otherworldly forces, how tears of impotence, pain, heartache and frustration flowed down my cheeks. How, with a bloodied, betrayed and throbbing heart and with broken insides, I had to try to carry on living. To survive.
I want to try to describe what it’s like to do battle with those who think they are God, with God-botherers who consider themselves above the rest of us because they have power and money and do not deign to listen to the voice of a child.
I want to demonstrate how I had to fight against the almighty Church, the Vatican, the Holy See, wherever that is, and against silent spokesmen. Finally, I want you to see how I was impacted by the cardinal and the dominion of your servants under the authority and the exacting eye of God.
I hope you’ll read this and will try to understand me. I pray, insofar as I can and as God hears, that you will not remain silent like the rest of the godless ones who preferred to look the other way rather than act.
Dear Pope, it isn’t difficult. Do not be afraid.
Translated by Jonathan Reeder